This blog post is a sermon I gave at Oak Road Lutheran Church in Lilburn, GA, on November 7th, 2021. Our church follows a 3-year lectionary of Scripture readings. An OT, Epistle, and NT reading is given in the services before the sermon. The readings for this Sunday were 1 Kings 17:8-16, Hebrews 9:24-28, and Mark 12:38-44.
I’ve been hearing about the coming collapse of the American economy for over a decade now… I thought it was supposed to happen back in 2012!
I had friends who kept saying the American dollar will completely collapse… you need to invest in silver and gold!
I’m sitting there going, I’m too dumb to know what do with a bar of silver. If the economy completely collapses and every grocery store is raided and the shelves are empty (except for the tofu hot dogs), I’m sorry… I don’t know how I’d buy a loaf of bread a whole bar of silver… how do you even make change???
I just don’t think I know how to live in that system… so I’d just say, “I’m just going to trust God and pray that he’ll have some ravens bring my wife and me some bread.” This was before kids. But in reality, I knew I was just going to go their militarized supply fortress if that happened.
Now with kids… and in GA and no longer able to get to the doomsday preppers I know, this conversation came up again with a neighborhood friend I grew up with via text before January 6th, and I had to say, “I have nothing… I’m going to just find a creek and pray that God will have some ravens bring bread to my family.” He’s a good friend… he didn’t correct me and say I needed six months of freeze-dried Patriot food… he just said, “God will provide.” The other friends are good friends too, they’d tell me, that’s great, but you should prepare at least a month’s worth of food and water. Hey that’d probably be wise stewardship – maybe God would then be able to send the ravens to someone else!
Why am I talking about finding myself with nothing to eat, no provisions to be found even if I had the American pesos? And why ravens?
If you remember not being able to find toilet paper… and you’re now seeing a empty spaces in the food aisles, you probably know I’m why. Many of you probably already know why I’m talking about bread from ravens?
Old Testament Reading – 1 Kings 17:8-16
In our Old Testament reading, Elijah is told to go to a widow’s home to be fed!
Do you know how Elijah was being fed at that time? By ravens!
Elijah had told the wicked King Ahab… there shall be no rain or dew until I say so! And God told Elijah to go to an obscure brook and drink there and that he’d send ravens to feed him. And ravens brought him meat and bread each morning… God provides!
But because of the drought, the brook dried up… but… God provides! He tells Elijah to go to Zarephath and that there he has commanded a widow to feed him.
But does this widow have food?
Yeah… enough to make one last meal of bread for her and her son. She actually says, “I’m making it so my son and I can eat it and then die!” At this point… she’s already rationed a lot… they’re done. This is it. No mas comida.
Out of this last of her food, Elijah asks her to give to him, the prophet of God whose words will stop the drought.
She initially says she has nothing to give… I’m about to die… this is my last meal… quite different from saying, “Sorry, I don’t have any change.” Or “Sorry, I only have plastic.”
But Elijah says, “Do not fear! Go eat and die, but first give me a bit of that last meal of yours, because God says, “It ain’t your last; it won’t be.” You will have flour and oil until the day the Lord sends rain.”
So literally, she gives of the last that she had… trusting God provides.
Most of us have not been in this situation… no foreseeable way to get more money, more food tomorrow or the next day or the week after that. Most of us do not know what it is like to give all that we have from our poverty, from the end of our life.
Most of us have not been put into that situation where we are free to give all of life with nothing left to lose.
Most of us have not been put into that situation to demonstrate our faith in the God that provides with by giving from the last of all that we have to him. Though she gave to Elijah, she was giving to God, trusting in the promise of God Elijah has just spoken. God will provide!
New Testament Reading – Mark 12:38-44
Most of us have never been put in that situation, but in our Gospel reading we see another widow giving out of poverty, everything that she had, all she had to live on.
We witness this giving as Jesus witnessed it in the temple of God, in the Court of the Women, where all of Israel could enter and give financial offerings to support the temple worship!
Many rich people put in large sums.
Large coins… many of them… you could hear their giving. (Clang clang clang, miming dumping bags into the treasury 2 to 3 times before ruffling through my pockets to drop a few more in.)
But the widow… you don’t hear her offering. Two small copper coins which make a penny.
What can you buy with a penny? … In her day, what she gave was 1/64th of a days wages. Not enough for a meal… So where does she go? What does she do to keep on living? She goes to the temple and gives from her poverty, everything she has, all she had to live on. Jesus sees this and Jesus called his disciples to himself… “Truly I say to you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the offering box.”
Last Sunday, we commemorated Luther’s kickstart of the Reformation Movement that dumped the Roman Catholic system of our works playing a role in our salvation right upside on its head, bringing back to the forefront of the Church the good news that we are saved by grace alone through faith alone in Jesus alone!
We see today, Jesus dumping the system of works righteousness and self-justification before God upside down on its head. He is God and Jesus’ name means, “The Lord Saves!” Not your money. Not your prayers… your faith in God saves you. True faith prays. True faith gives to God’s workers who do God’s work.
You are not saved by going to church! You go to church because you are saved because you have faith in Jesus! You come to church because you have faith in Jesus has promised to be here where his people are gathered in his name with his Word proclaimed.
This wasn’t how things were being conducted in Jesus’ day. And dare I say we fall into the same traps.
Before the incident of the widow who gave the least in monetary value gave the most because she gave all that she had from her poverty, Jesus had dropped this warning, “Beware the scribes!” Who were the scribes? These were priests who were set apart as scholars! Being a scribe wasn’t a bad thing… the prophet Ezra is the first scribe listed in Scripture… knowing Scripture inside and out and being able to interpret it, quote it, and apply it isn’t a bad thing. Ezra wasn’t a bad guy! Being a scribe isn’t a bad thing, but in Jesus’ day, “Beware the scribes!” At least the ones who walked around in long robes – perhaps a mark of holiness – Mine’s longer than yours! They really liked being called grand titles in the public marketplace (Oh Rabbi, Oh Teacher), who got all the best seats in the synagogue or right next to the host at the feasts.
None of this is necessarily bad… who are the pastors who are set apart as scholars today, who are the Scribes today? In our church denomination, I’d reckon the he seminary professors, the professors at our Concordia Universities… when they role into town, people call them Dr. People call them Professor. When they come to your church, they do get treated as royalty. Nothing is wrong with this… depending on their heart at such receptions and heart in the giving of such respect and adoration…
But in Jesus’ day, Beware of the Scribes… Jesus says it straight up – the Scribes devour the widows houses. The Scribes had no source of income but offerings, and they abused the giving system. They took advantage of widows… just like the church took advantage of people selling indulgences in Luther’s day, and just as the church sometimes takes advantage of the downtrodden today… using passages like ours today to say, give until it hurts! Give it all from your poverty.
No, this widow is the one whose house was being devoured by the Scribes. This widow was giving everything she had… give her a meal!
Jesus could have given her a meal… but it wouldn’t have solved the systemic problem. The problem of sin… the problem of the Scribes living large, devouring the homes of widows who had no safety net of protection in their day… no large life insurance policies in the first century if your husband died and left you with little kids or no elder son to care for you and in a societal system that offered women no training or skills for in demand hired labor. Giving her a meal wouldn’t solve the systemic sinful problem that we have of looking to how much money we give as being the mark of who gives the most. Or the sinful problem we have of putting worship buildings over people – and the need to keep the temple worship going over people’s physical needs – when someone literally has given all they have and can’t eat or drink. How about that?
Do you know what the disciples said right after Jesus told them the widow gave the most… they left the temple and one of them started saying, “Look, teacher, what wonderful stones and what wonderful buildings!” Yeah… these stones are really nice… and they were, these stones were 37 ft long, 18ft wide, and 12 ft high and covered all in gold! (Clang clang clang miming the dumping of money into the treasury).
Where was their heart? Did they even hear Jesus? Beware the Scribes. This poor widow gave more for they contributed from their abundance, but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on…
She gave from all of her life — the word used is bios… life… all the translations say what she had to live on… but I really like just saying she gave all her life… and in her position… she was completely free to do so…
Jesus gave all his life!!! Jesus gave all of his life from his abundance, from having everything as the eternally begotten Son of God, creator and sustainer of all things. Jesus gave all of his life, dying on the cross for your sins, so you may have eternal life through faith in him.
We in return are free to give all our life…. Not all that we have to live on… but all of our life… to give it to God. It’s beginning to see that all of our life is to be offered to God – out of freedom, not compulsion or to earn anything from him, we’ve already been given everything for free from his giving all of his life for us.
God provides, and he has given all of his life to you!